SCIENTISTS in Glasgow are carrying out research which could reduce the effects of dementia by helping patients to get a better night's sleep.
Researchers are appealing for 50 volunteers with Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia, to take part in a six-month clinical trial of a drug containing the sleep hormone melatonin.
In the first study of its kind in the world, the scientists from CPS Research believe that prescribing the hormone could help improve the quality of life for people suffering from dementia.
It follows findings showing that people suffering from dementia produce less melatonin than others. They are also known to experience disruptions in their sleep pattern, waking up in the night and often getting up and moving about.
Dr Gordon Crawford, from CPS Research, said: "Dementia is a shattering condition for patients, their families and friends.
"By reducing the symptoms of the illness, it is hoped that both patients and their carers can enjoy a better quality of life and manage the condition more effectively.
"In our groundwork for this project we investigated a slow-release version of the natural compound melatonin.
"Our findings suggested that the participants functioned better during the day - possibly due to a better quality sleep pattern."
The move comes after author Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2007, made a plea for more research into treatments for dementia.
Figures released by charity Alzheimer's Research UK show that for every UK scientist working on dementia, six work on cancer.
Sir Terry said: "Alzheimer's is a large number of small tragedies usually played out behind closed doors, so in spite of the numbers living with it, the world still doesn't take much notice.
"When the world was shocked by HIV in the Eighties we saw a crash programme of research which has helped tame it enormously. We need the same kind of aggressive action on dementia now."
In Scotland 80,000 are currently living with dementia, and according to Alzheimer Scotland this figures is set to double in the next 25 years.
The charity's spokeswoman, Kirsty Jardine, said: "Dementia is affecting many people now and it is an illness that is increasing, mostly as a result of our aging population.
"There is an urgency to find treatments and a cure, not just from a human rights point of view, but because we don't know to what extent our health and social care systems will be able to cope."